Last weekend, at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, Barack Obama delivered a characteristically eloquent speech. Obama swore; he made fun of the Republicans, of his staff, and of the media; he threatened, with a straight face, to send Predator drones after pop-stars hitting on his daughters. Obama, in fact, was funnier than Jay Leno, who followed with a more tepid act.
It’s impossible to imagine an Indian politician making a funny speech, and that’s a sad fact. Sad, because so much in Indian politics is about one-upmanship, and even a gentle joke will be taken the wrong way; sad, because so many sensitivities are always on alert, prepared to be outraged; sad, because displaying humour would mean treating politics as any other profession, whereas politics is supposed to be a calling to lift up a billion people. The irony, of course, is that the Indian public has already developed an acute funny bone about its leaders; it’s only the politicians who have yet to develop a sense of humour about themselves.